Readers of this blog know that I am no fan of the word ‘depression’ but it came up in an amazing story in Science this week. The article is about how we may be inheriting genetic diseases going back 50 000 years to one of our earliest ancestors, Neandertal Man! Depression is listed as one possibly hereditary trait going back all that time but ‘skin lesions’ and ‘blood clots’ are also listed.
This gives some kudos to the Greek physicians who lived a blink of the eye ago (2400 years back is nothing compared to 50 000 years) and their classification of man according to ‘Humours’. Nothing remotely ‘humorous’ about these humours though. If you were of the ‘black bile’ variation of humanity, you would have a melancholic temperament – ie ‘depression’ and although the Greeks knew nothing of Mendelian genetics, but they did seem to know that these ‘humours’ owed something to inheritance.
Surrendering to our genes – especially regarding ‘depression’ – is not the best idea in town. Even if we do have genetic predispositions going back to Neandertal Man it does not mean that these genes are bound to affect us. The predisposition may remain dormant all our lives unless some trigger is pulled at some time. Many world-changing men and women might have inherited genes from Neandertals or even apes as far as we know but have nevertheless lived incredibly productive lives. Winston Churchill certainly had the physiognomy of the ‘melancholic’ and indeed referred to dark passages in his life as ‘Black Dog’ but he overcame these, saved the free world from catastrophe and was voted Greatest Briton of all Time.
As card players tend to say: ‘It’s not so much the hand you are dealt, it’s how you play it.’ Some people get incredibly awful hands dealt to them and still make something of their lives. Others get a handful of aces and have terrible lives. Genes from Neandertals are just one factor involved. Still for players of The Blame Game, a big ally may just have emerged – courtesy of research in America.